Magazine article Geographical

Wild Woodland: For a Few Weeks in April and Early May, Our Broadleaf Woods and Forests Are Carpeted with Sensational Displays of Bluebells, Wild Garlic and Other Wildflowers. but with a Little Patience and the Right Know-How, You Can Fine a Whole Range of Flora and Fauna to Photograph

Magazine article Geographical

Wild Woodland: For a Few Weeks in April and Early May, Our Broadleaf Woods and Forests Are Carpeted with Sensational Displays of Bluebells, Wild Garlic and Other Wildflowers. but with a Little Patience and the Right Know-How, You Can Fine a Whole Range of Flora and Fauna to Photograph

Article excerpt

The return of spring is detectable in many ways that are both representative of the new season and stimulating to our senses: the welcome warmth of rising air temperatures, the brightness of longer daylight hours, the dawn chorus of songbirds and the explosions of colour and scent from hundreds of flowering plants. Small wonder that spring is many people's favourite season.

But for plants and animals, it's the most important and vital of the seasons; it means another winter survived, the end of hibernation for some species, a time to feed, breed and grow for all. And in our forests and woodlands, the months of spring provide the best opportunities for naturalists, conservationists and photographers to observe the diversity of flora and fauna that lives in this most exploited of habitats.

For centuries, the world's civilisations have treated forests as little more than a resource to plunder for energy and construction, or to be cleared for settlement, raising livestock and growing crops. The long-term consequences of these actions for the environment and global climate have been understood only in the past 30 years, and while illegal logging persists in some parts of the developing world, Europe's woodlands are viewed in a very different light today. As a result, greater emphasis is placed on sustainable forest management, replanting schemes and conservation of woodland flora and fauna.

BROADLEAF BEAUTY

Generally speaking, there are two main types of forest in the temperate zones of Europe: the managed, evergreen conifer plantations that provide our timber and paper needs, and the older native broadleaf woodlands, where oak, beech, chestnut, ash and other deciduous species are common. It's the latter that provide the greater biodiversity for study; broadleaf woodlands change their shape, form and colour throughout the year. These changes influence the lifecycles of other woodland species, both plant and animal. By contrast, conifers hardly alter in appearance from one season to the next.

A primary reason for choosing spring to photograph a broadleaf woodland and the wildlife it supports is the emergence of wildflowers. For a few precious weeks in April and early May, the sunlight is able to reach the forest floor before the trees have come into full leaf. This is the time when woodland flowers cover the ground in a carpet of green, blue, white and yellow, and are bathed in sunlight dappled by the shadows of bare branches overhead. Bluebells and primroses are the most celebrated woodland flowers, but the scent of wild garlic is often the first thing detected before any flowers are seen.

It's a brief, yet magical time to be photographing woodland, but the lighting conditions are tricky: intense natural colour combined with bright patches of green from fresh new leaves, and the raking shadows of a low-angled sun all add up to create high contrast. A camera with a high dynamc range (HDR) setting can cope with high levels of contrasting light, but there are other techniques that the photographer can use before hitting the HDR button.

Working close to the ground, a wide-angle lens is the main optic to use for sweeping studies of an expanse of flowers with plenty of depth of field. When composing the scene, fill the foreground with woodland flowers and position the camera to prevent any direct sunlight shining into the lens and causing flare on your images. For a closer inspection of the flowers, a macro lens is needed, with the camera mounted on a tripod to aid accurate focusing and image sharpness.

TREE DWELLERS

Direct sunlight casts deep shadows and these make it difficult to spot woodland birds. For example, the unmistakable tapping of a woodpecker may be clearly heard, but it could be hidden in the shadows, difficult to spot and almost impossible to photograph.

Overcast days provide the best conditions: the sun's rays are diffused by the thin cloud cover to create an even, soft light over the forest with only the faintest of shadows. …

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